Friends Reunited could be sold for £15m

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The Independent Online

Broadcaster ITV is near to a deal that will see it sell social networking site Friends Reunited for just £15 million, it was reported today.

ITV paid an initial £120 million for the business in December 2005, but the popularity of websites such as Facebook and the slowdown in online advertising due to the recession has dramatically reduced its value.



The Mail on Sunday said entrepreneur Peter Dubens' private equity firm Oakley Capital was in exclusive talks to buy the business for about £15 million.



Mr Dubens has a record of shrewd internet investments, having sold his consumer and broadband division of Pipex to Tiscali for £210 million in 2007.



ITV put the Friends business up for sale in March, little more than three years after it bought it for an initial £120 million from founders Steve and Julie Pankhurst, the husband and wife team who set up the website in 2000.



Under the deal, first announced in December 2005, ITV was due to pay up to £55 million more this year depending on the performance of the business.



The broadcaster wanted to link the website with its ITV.com website in advertising areas such as dating, recruitment and classifieds.



Friends Reunited delivered around half of ITV's £36 million online revenues in 2008, but saw its own revenues fall by £4 million over the year due to the loss of subscription income as the reunions site relaunched on an advertising-funded basis last May.



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